historicalflaskConnecticut Sunburst Flasks historical flasks

ebay By Bill Ham nasa

The firstgeometric flasks, those with sunburst and Masonic patterns wereblown in about 1815. The first historical flasks, thosecommemorating a historical person or event were not blown untilabout 1824. Sunburst and Masonic flasks were blown at a number ofglass houses during the approximate 1815-1830 period includingtwo in Connecticut, the Pitkin Glass Works, East Hartford, andthe Coventry Glass Works, Coventry. Historical flasks were alsoblown at these glass works.

In 1788 Connecticut granted the Pitkin Glass Works inManchester a 25-year exclusive right to produce glass products inthe State. They were also granted 10 years of tax-free status ifthey could produce their first product within three years. Thiswas not accomplished. The founders, William Pitkin, ElishaPitkin, and Samuel Bishop were granted this privilege because offinancial and material contributions made by the Pitkin family inthe Revolutionary War. J.P. Foster, who was superintendent, tookover the Pitkin Glass Works in 1810 (ref.1). In 1823, it wasrenamed the Manchester Glass Works (ref.2). The early productsincluded the Pitkin Flask, which was made by the German half postmethod. Although these are called Pitkin Flasks, they were alsomade at Keene, New Hampshire, as well as in Ohio (ref.3). Severalprized flasks including the Jared Spencer and the JPFEagle-Cornucopia were made at the Pitkin Glass Works (ref.2).

The success at Manchester led to the formation of a new glasshouse at a small post, called Coventry, approximately 18 mileseast of Hartford. This house, which was established in 1813,became one of the most important glass houses in Americanhistory. Because of the 25 years exclusive right of producingglass, which had been granted to the Pitkin, Glass Works, noother glass house could operate in Connecticut until 1813. TheCoventry Glass Works was organized by a citizens group followingthe trade upheaval, which resulted from the War of 1812. Littleis known about its initial operation in 1813 until ThomasStebbins took possession of the business in 1820. It was thenoperated for 10 years by Thomas Stebbins and his associatesfollowed by Stebbins and Chamberlin. The last 18 years ofoperation were under Gilbert, Turner & Company until itclosed in 1848 (ref.1).

The first American historical flasks, the Lafayette flasks tocommemorate his visit to the United States, and the DeWittClinton flask honoring the Erie Canal, were blown at Coventry.Several Sunbursts as well as many other historical and geometricflasks have been attributed to the Coventry Glass Works includingRailroads, Double Eagles, Washington-Jacksons, Masonics, andCornucopia-Urns (ref.4, 5, 6).

Flasks have been attributed to the Coventry Glass Works bytheir embossing, historical research, and reports from diggingthe glass works site by Dr. Edwin Albee in the late 1800's andagain in 1926 by Harry Hall White.

There was majorrivalry between the Keene Glass Works and the Coventry GlassWorks, which made them, compete for glass quality. The Coventry Glass Workstook pride in consistently producing the best possible glass andits glass products are considered as having some of the finestdesigns and metal of all the early American flasks.

The closure of the Connecticut as well as other New Englandhouses was due to running out of wood fuel for the furnaces. Thisgenerally occurred in the New England area in the late 1840's.The major glass businesses then moved to the Pittsburgh areawhere natural gas had been discovered and was being used forfuel. This change in fuel along with different raw materials andmore advanced melting technology resulted in the more refinedcolors in these later glass products. This later glass is oftenreferred to as "Pittsburgh Glass".

The colors of the Connecticut flasks are primarily the naturaloccurring olive greens, olive ambers, and ambers, similar tothose of the Keene-Marboro Street and other New England glasshouses. The olive greens and ambers are the yellow or goldentones and range in density from medium to dark. The olive ambersresult from chemistries in between the olive green and amber andhave similar tones and densities. Although very rare, orange,red, and puce tone amber specimens characteristics of theBaltimore Glass houses, as well as colorless, aquamarine, andemerald green have been reported.

All these Pitkin Glass works and Coventry Glass works sunburstflasks were made with 2 piece molds, pontil scar and shearedmouths. No specimens with other than the sheared mouth and pontilscar bases have been reported in the literature nor were theyobserved during this study.

In general, the rarity (ref.7) of many of the sunbursts forms,as well as many other forms has been somewhat confused during thelast few years by the breaking up of a number of major flaskcollections including: Gardner, Museum Sale, Austin, Blaske,Brown, etc. These collections have made available a large numberof rare sunbursts and other flasks. Therefor, some flasks havebeen perceived as fairly common, when in fact, they are quiterare: e.g. the GVIII-11, one each from Blaske, Austin, Gardner;and GVIII-22, Gardner 2, Blaske 2, and Austin 3.

Three pint flasks attributed to New England and possibly thePitkin Glass Works are the GVIII-5 (ref.8) (Figure 1), GVIII-5a(Figure 2), and GVIII-7 (Figure 3). These flasks look verysimilar to the GVIII-3, except that they have rounded shoulders.

Most GVIII-5 flasks (Photo 1) weigh about 9 ounces. However,flask specimens have been observed with very thin glass, weighingless than 6 ounces and thick glass weighing more than 12 ounces.These flasks are often very weakly embossed. A number ofspecimens were observedwith a linear depression in the side as shown in Photo 2. Thedepression looks like something had been in the mold when some specimens were blown.Although the flask is usually observed in the New England colors,it was observed in a bluish forest green (Ex-Austin) and a lightblue-green (Blaske Auction No. 663 (ref.9)). The desirablecharacteristics in this flask are the light colors, colorvariations, strong impressions, and either very thick or thinglass. This flask is more rare than might be expected because ithas not been sought and is much rarer than the GVIII-3.

The GVIII-5a (photo 3) has a "ringed bull's-eye"circular center pattern in the weakly embossed. This is a veryrare flask and has been observed in amber, olive amber, andgolden yellow (Blaske auction No. 666).

The GVIII-7 (photo 4) has a round depression dot in the centerand two circular dot depressions on the shoulder above thesunburst. This pattern is usually faintly present and on only oneside of the flask. The circular dots are often faint. TheGVIII-5a, and aGVIII-7 have a double wide corrugation with asmall corrugation on either side of it at the point of theshoulder (Photo 5). This is a very rare flask and was observed ingolden amber and olive amber.

There are three Sunburst flasks specifically attributed to theCoventry Glass Works. They are the GVIII-3 (Figure 4), GVIII-16(Figure 5), and GVIII-18 (Figure 6).

The GVIII-3 (Photo 6), a pint form, has the general shape ofthe Keene "two pounders" (GVIII-1 and GVIII-2)but thinner glass and slightly smaller. The flask is also similarto the GVIII5 but has distinctly protruding winged shoulders.Although rare, there are specimens with an approximately 3/8 inchcircular depression in the center on one side as shown in Photo7. The more desirable flasks of this form are color variationsand the lighter shades of olive green and amber. Although thisflask has been reported in amethystine, I have not observed suchspecimens. This flask, which is one on my favorite sunburstforms, is more rare than one might assume because it has not beenextensively sought.

The GVIII-6 (Photo 8), a one-half pint form, is one of themost common sunburst flasks. This flask has a number of fairlycommon anomalies including bulging shoulders (Photo 9), droopingsunburst patterns, and the base ring missing on one or bothsides. These base variations appear to be common in this flask.These flasks are normally found in the New England colors,however, specimens have been reported in green and emerald green(Blaske Auction No. 679). Desirable features of this form are thelight colors, green, emerald green, and other color variations,and anomalies from blowing such as bulged shoulders and roundedbases.

The GVIII-18 (Photo 10) is an extremely attractive one-halfpint flask and also one of the most common sunbursts. Its shapeis very similar to the pint sized GVIII-5. These flasks arenormally found in New England colors. Although rare, it has beenreported in orange and reddish tone ambers. The light colors areparticularly spectacular in this flask.

The information presented has been based on literatureresearch and examination of specimens. The Drawings in figures1-6 were prepared from flask specimens by Theldon Parker III. Theflasks pictured are from the authors collection.

GVIII 3 (olive amber) GVIII 3a (with center depression) GVIII 3 (olive green)

GVIII-5 (moss green)

GVIII-5a (yellow amber)

GVIII-7 (yellow green)

GVIII 16 (olive amber)

GVIII 16 (moss green)

GVIII 18 (olive green)

GVIII 18 (amber)


  1. Van Rensselaer, Stephen, EARLY AMERICAN BOTTLES AND FLASKS, Transcript Printing Company, Peterborough, New Hampshire, 1926.
  2. McKearin, Helen and Wilson, Kenneth M., AMERICAN BOTTLES & FLASKS AND THEIR ANCESTORY, Crown Publishers, Inc. New York, 1978.
  3. Gardner, Charles B., CONNECTICUT GLASS, Antiques, September 1934.
  4. White, Harry, Hall, MORE LIGHT ON COVENTRY AND ITS PRODUCTS, Part I, Antiques, October 1940.
  5. Ref. 4. Part II November 1940.
  6. Ref. 4. Part III February 1941.
  7. Ref. 2. Page 501 defines rarity.
  8. Ref. 2. Roman Numerals define Flask Groups and the Arabic Number following defines the Form in the group.
  9. Heckler, Norman C., BLASKE COLLECTION AMERICAN HISTORICAL FLASKS, Robert B. Skinner, Bolton Mass., 1983.

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